Starting out the season 2-4 is not where Tamaqua Head Coach Sam Bonner envisioned his football team would be by week six in the 2011 season. However, the Raiders (6-5) have bounced back from a rough start and are in position to win an Eastern Conference Division II Championship.
The Raiders 2011 season has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. As stated, Tamaqua started off the season 2-4 losing some tough games within that stretch. The Raiders lost a tough game to Lehighton 14-6 and an even tougher loss to Shenandoah Valley. The Devils loss had to be a tough one to swallow with the Raiders leading by 14 going into the fourth quarter. The Devils outscored Tamaqua 22-7 in the frame and ended up losing the contest 28-21.
The slow start obviously wasn't what the Tamaqua coaches, players, and fans had in mind, but the fact that the Raiders have battled their way to the Eastern Conference Division II Championship cannot go unnoticed.
"The kids have really done a good job since the 2-4 start," said Bonner. "Even when we started out 2-4 we knew we were a better team than our record showed. We had some tough losses to Lehighton and Shenandoah, but our kids have definitely turned it around."
Coach Bonner wasn't lying. The Raiders have won four out of five and had to beat rival Marian to get into post-season play. The Colts also needed a win to get into the post-season. One could argue that Tamaqua has been playing in playoff type games since week 10 of the regular season.
The Raiders' opponent will be the North Penn Panthers out of Blossburg. North Penn (7-4) couldn't be any similar to Tamaqua as far as offensive scheme goes.
The Panthers like to run the football as do the Raiders and they depend a lot on running back Skye Stiner. Stiner is the Panthers main running force, rushing for 1,497 yards and 18 touchdowns. Stiner could be compared to Tamaqua running back Jarred Muffley who is also a workhorse in his own right. Muffley has had a solid year as well rushing for 1,202 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The Panthers also have a play-maker in slotback Marquis Delgado. Delgado has gained 826 yards of total offense on the season and has scored seven touchdowns. The Panthers like to pound the ball inside with Stiner and then use various fakes and misdirection to hit the edges with Delgado.
"They have two guys that we really have to worry about with number 2 (Skye Stiner) and number 21 (Marquis Delgado)," added Bonner. "They are very similar to us, in that they are a run first team. We have to play our brand of football and not let them get the edge on us."
Tamaqua likes to do much of the same, pounding it with Muffley and then using Dalton Nunemacher (42-369-3tds) and Tyler Hope (63-431-4tds) to spread the field. Nunemacher and Delgado are both threats in the return game for their respective teams as well.
"They do a lot offensively that poses a threat to any defense," said North Penn Head Coach Tom Dickinson. "They have a ton of formations and it's very important for us to stay discipline. They like to run a lot of sweeps and counters and we have to make sure we keep them from getting big plays when they run those formations."
An added weapon to the Raiders offense has been the ability to throw the football. Tamaqua freshman quarterback Brett Kosciolek has done a great job of filling in for the previous QB Matt Delborello (Delborello has been out due to injury). Kosciolek has passed for 287 yards since taking over in week nine in the second half vs. Minersville. Last week against Catasaqua the Raiders passed for 116 yards and rushed for 111 yards. That was the first time this season the Raiders passed for more yards than they gained on the ground.
"This is a big step for our program if we can get the win on Friday," said Bonner. "It shows people that we as a team have the ability to fight adversity. We can still come out on top even if we didn't start the season out the way we wanted."